Saturday, December 13, 2008

General Motors calls on UK Govt to rescue it

General Motors, which employs 5,500 people around the UK, is in talks with the British government to secure cash to allow it to continue operating in what the car maker admits are "critical" conditions.

A report in The Telegraph says that the talks follow a decision by the US Congress to vote down a 14 billion dollar loan package to support the American automotive industry on Friday.

The future of British workers at GM plants in Luton and on Merseyside is unclear, as does that of up to a further 5,500 people employed by parts suppliers.

The Gordon Brown Government is likely to take a cautious approach to requests to bail out the UK car industry. It is thought more likely to consider offering bridging loans.

GM said it was "very disappointed" with the US loan package's failure, but continued to "look at options to restructure and stabilize the business in this exceptionally difficult economic period." It claimed to be operating "as usual".

The car maker, which owns brands including Vauxhall, Saab and Opel, said it was in talks with unions and European governments in countries where it has big operations to "provide liquidity for sustaining operations".

Underlining the urgency of the situation, GM said it would seek liquidity "while the US team pursues its options".

GM is also in talks with the German government, where it has Opel production facilities, in a bid to secure a credit guarantee.

The Swedish government yesterday announced a 28 billion Kronor support package to help the car industry. The plan offers credit guarantees, emergency loans and research funds to companies from Volvo to Saab.

Volvo is owned by Ford, which faces similar problems as does GM and Chrsyler.

According to The Telegraph, the Spanish region of Aragon, where GM has an Opel plant, has offered its own 200 million Euros credit guarantee.

Source; Agencies

Bank of America to slash 30,000 to 35,000 jobs

Bank of America said it expects to cut 30,000 to 35,000 jobs over the next three years, as it faces a deteriorating economic environment and tries to absorb Merrill Lynch.

The final number could be even higher, analysts say. Charlotte, North Carolina-based Bank of America said it hasn’t yet completed its analysis for eliminating positions, and won’t until early next year. The company and Merrill have about 308,000 employees in total, and the cuts will affect workers from both companies and all types of businesses.

Bank of America is considered one of the country’s healthier banks, and its decision to slash so many jobs illustrates the breadth of the layoffs hitting the United States. The nation lost more than half a million jobs in November alone, and economists expect many more to come. Bank of America’s action is a particularly hard blow for Charlotte, which is also home to the beleaguered Wachovia Corp, a once strong bank that is now being acquired by Wells Fargo & Co. In what amounts to a fire sale. Just three months ago, when the Merrill Lynch deal was announced, Charlotte was dubbed Wall Street South; now, the banking center is being hit as hard as Wall Street and other towns across America, where people go to work in the morning unsure if they will still have a job that night. The announcement of job cuts at Bank of America was hardly unexpected, considering the merger and the wave of job losses seen in the banking industry and in other sectors over the past few months. Bank of America and Merrill Lynch have already eliminated thousands of investment banking jobs over the past year, as have other banks, in an effort to lower costs as they face increasing defaults in mortgages, credit card debt and other loans.

HSBC lays off 193 staffers in India

Foreign lender HSBC has decided to slash 193 jobs in its Indian consumer assets business segment after reviewing its portfolio in the backdrop of the prevailing economic conditions, the bank said. The bank is restructuring its consumer assets business division in the country and has made "every efforts to redeploy the staff," HSBC said. "Some 620 people have been redeployed in suitable positions in the bank and other group entities in India. The leavers have been placed in the bank's priority returners scheme which will give them first preference for suitable jobs that come up in the next year," it said.

Source: Agencies

Friday, December 12, 2008

Will IT slowdown continue till Q3 of 2009?

The tech slowdown will continue up to the third quarter of 2009, according to global research firm Forrester. IT consulting and systems integration services will hit the wall in 2009, while IT outsourcing growth will remain moderate in 2009 and 2010, getting a small respite from the economic slowdown, it said in its report released on Thursday.

Because of the slowdown, companies will turn to vendors that can help cut costs, but growth in IT outsourcing revenues will remain moderate due to the use of lower-cost offshore resources and smaller-scale outsourcing deals, among other reasons, according to the report.

On a positive note, the Research firm said that while the US IT market outlook is bad, it is better than the 2001-02 technology downturn. “This time, computer equipment vendors will see declines of 5-10% in US revenues on a quarterly basis, not the 20% to 25% drops of the early 2000s,” said Andrew Bartels, the report’s author and vice-president, Forrester Research.

Forrester has projected a growth of 1.6% growth in IT spends for 2009, assuming a decline in US GDP in the third quarter of 2008. The decline will accelerate in the fourth quarter of 2008 and the first half of 2009 before a weak recovery starts in the second half, the report titled ‘US IT Market Outlook: Q4 2008’ said.

The report is based on an analysis of US Department of Commerce data and the financial reports of 49 IT vendors.

The industries that present the best opportunities for IT vendors in 2009 will be the federal government, primary production, consumer products and pharmaceuticals, chemicals and oil and gas, public services like healthcare and education, insurance, utilities, telecom, and most professional services which will not be impacted much by the recession.

On the other hand, those most likely cut back their IT purchases are IT goods and services including financial services, consumer durables, construction and housing, retail, and industrial products (including autos).

The financial services industry is expected to cut IT purchases by 3% in 2008 and by 4% in 2009. While the construction industry is expected to cut purchases back by 2% in 2008 and 2009. The retail industry will have no growth in IT purchases in 2009, and IT buying by industrial manufacturing will slow to 1% in 2009, it noted.

Those with mixed IT buying prospects include high-tech products, wholesale trade, media and entertainment, transportation and logistics. Some professional services like consulting and advertising services will see slowing of growth in either 2008 or 2009, it pointed out.

Source: Economic Times

Alcatel-Lucent to cut 1,000 jobs; To reduce 5,000 contractors

Telecom major Alcatel-Lucent will cut 1,000 managerial posts and remove 5,000 contractors as part of its costs-saving initiatives.

"The company expects to reduce the number of managers by approximately 1,000 and the number of contractors by approximately 5,000," it said in a statement today.

"It will also complete its existing restructuring initiatives as well as seek savings in real estate, support functions and discretionary spending".

The firm would initiate a set of strong actions designed to reduce its break-even point by one billion euro per year in both 2009 and 2010, according to the statement.

Further, Alcatel-Lucent would be consolidating its global R&D centres. "Other actions will be taken to have a more agile R&D, such as further simplifying the Carrier Product Group from 6 to 4 divisions," the statement added.

As part of its strategic transformation, the telecom major would be focusing on service providers and enterprises markets, among others.

"We want to stimulate a sustainable business model for the industry that will fuel innovation and the capital investment required to expand the overall web experience to more people and businesses," Alcatel-Lucent CEO Ben Verwaayen said.

For the full year 2009, the firm anticipates the market for telecommunications equipment and related deployment services to be down between 8 to 12 per cent at constant exchange rate.

Source: Agencies

Will nanotechnology transform information technology?

The nanotechnology industry is heralding a new world order and is estimated to grow over $1 trillion by 2015. Since it is distinguished by its interdisciplinary nature, can nanotechnology revolutionize information technology?

Even though it has already bringing in radical changes in the fields of healthcare, textile, paint, rubber, automobile industries, but lately also seeing advances on the IT front.

Talking to CXOtoday, Ashok Kumar Manoli, principal secretary IT, BT & Science & Technology, Government of Karnataka said, “without doubt, nanotechnology is making rapid advances in the IT industry since IT is one of the defining features of today’s world. Nano has made advances in IT even if it is not directly related.”

Recently, IBM researchers have created transistors out of carbon nanotubes that can outperform similar silicon transistors, a development that helps build the case that carbon may one day become a building block of computing.

IBM researchers have outlined how transistors made of carbon nanotubes -- long, thin strands of carbon molecules -- delivered more than twice the amount of electrical current at a faster rate than cutting-edge transistors made from silicon and metal, the basis for chips today.

Likewise, Samsung, world’s leading electronics major has added carbon nanotubes to LCD tellies. Reports indicate that Samsung has been showing off its technology, which uses carbon nanotubes to drop the cost and increase the performance of LCD screens.

According to Masum Khan, product manager of Tesscorn, a leading company in customized equipments for nano research said, “Samsung research institutes have developed a 15-inch prototype LCD screen that employs an array of carbon nanotubes. The nanotubes are used instead of conventional light sources, such as bulbs or light-emitting diodes.”

Khan said that telly technologies would lower the cost of LCD TVs in the coming years.

Nanotech in consumer electronics

Nanotube TV technology has been around for a while and has much in common with traditional cathode-ray sets. The downside is that they need new production lines and would be more expensive than LCDs and Plasma screens.

However, if they are used alongside LCDs they could be used to cut the cost the backlight of LCD TVs. The backlight makes up half the cost of a 40-inch LCD. Samsung said that the partial use of nanotubes could lower energy consumption and improve picture quality. An LCD takes 15 milliseconds to render a picture, while an LCD with carbon nanotubes as a backlight just four milliseconds.

Technologists now want to create an LCD with a carbon backlight that lasts 30,000 hours and puts out 60 to 70 lumens per watt.

The other advances in nanotechnology is the “Nanosilver” technology used in almost all consumer appliances like washing machines, refrigerators where in the nanosilver technology helps fighting bacteria so food remains fresh for longer. Khan said a number of products are already coming out in the market.

Car changes color as per outside climate

On the automobile front, nanotechnology is used to develop a paint that can change color depending on the outside weather. This is possible when a small change in done “nanovoltage” to the paints resulting in change of color. “A number of automobile manufacturers have already expressed interest in the technology but this is still in research stage,” adds Khan.

Nano materials in tyres

Likewise, rubber when mixed with nano materials tends to have longer life than the normal tyres and also less on the wear and tear.

Light bullet proof garments

On the textile front, we already seen garments that are stain resistant and wrinkle free but now armed forces will use garments made of carbon material that are very light and even bullet proof. These garments are also anti-bacterial that can be worn for a number of days.

Are Indian companies still high on hiring?

Despite weaker forecast, employers in India remain among the most optimistic, according to a Manpower Employment Outlook Survey.

Though moving at a slower pace, the employers now report the second strongest hiring intentions globally, with a Net Employment Outlook (NEO) of 19 per cent. However, this Outlook represents a considerable decrease of 24 percentage points quarter-over-quarter and 27 percentage point’s year-over-year, the survey finds out.

Of the 33 countries and territories surveyed globally this quarter, employers in Peru are the most optimistic, with an NEO of 24 per cent. The NEO is derived by taking the percentage of employers anticipating total employment to increase and subtracting from this the percentage expecting to see a decrease in employment at their location over the next quarter.

“Though hiring intentions remain positive, Indian employers are reporting a much slower hiring pace, compared to the last quarter and year, says Manpower India MD Naresh Malhan. Employers in all the seven industry sectors and four regions have reported considerable decline in anticipated hiring activity for the first quarter of the New Year, its weakest since Q3 2005.

“The times may seem challenging, but the employment scenario in the country is not as gloomy as the rest of the world, and according to the survey, India will be one of the actively hiring nations for Q1 of 2009.”

Hiring-confidence of employers in India is the strongest of all the eight countries and territories across the Asia-Pacific region for the first quarter of 2009. Of the 3,557 employers surveyed, 22 per cent expect an increase in staffing levels in the quarter, 4 per cent anticipate a decrease, and 63 per cent are expecting no change.

Employers in mining & construction sector, for the third consecutive quarter, reported the most optimistic hiring intentions with an NEO of 23 per cent, though the Outlook shows a steep decline in employer hiring-confidence of 31 and 30 percentage points quarter-over-quarter and year-over-year, respectively.

Employers in services sector and mining & construction sector are expecting the most active hiring environment in the coming quarter with a Net Employment Outlook of 23 per cent.

Wholesale & retail trade employers reported the least optimistic hiring intentions with a Net Employment Outlook of 11 per cent.

Source: Times of India

India's factory output falls for first time in 13 years

India's factory output fell for the first time in more than 13 years in October, further evidence of a rapid economic slowdown which could spark more monetary easing by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) after aggressive weekend rate cuts.

Industrial output declined 0.4 percent in October from a year earlier, the first annual drop since data in the current series became available in April 1995, and sharply below the previous month's upwardly revised 5.5 percent.

The figure was below a forecast for growth of 2.2 percent in a Reuters poll of economists. Manufacturing production in Asia's third-largest economy fell 1.2 percent from a year earlier, data showed on Friday.

"It is a shocking figure and only underlines the fact that the Indian economy is in a very bad situation," said T.K. Bhaumik, economist at JK Industries Group. "This is a wake up call for the government."

Bhaumik called on the government to consider additional stimulus to that announced at the weekend and to use fiscal measures to lift consumer demand. Lending banks should move fast to pass on the RBI's recent rate cuts.

"Since the RBI has already done its job, now commercial banks should be fast to ease the credit line," he said referring to the Reserve Bank of India.

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor Duvvuri Subbarao has said India faces a period of painful adjustment after the global financial crisis froze credit markets in October, further weakening an economy struggling with high borrowing costs.

Subbarao said the bank's growth forecast for 2008/09 was likely to be cut from 7.5-8.0 percent. Many private economists expect it to dip below 7 percent.

The RBI cut its main rates by 1 percentage point on Saturday, lowering its key lending rate for the third time since October, and has indicated that it was ready to act again to bolster an economy slowing much faster than expected.

The government followed up with an additional $4 billion in additional spending to stimulate activity. The benchmark 10-year bond yield plunged to its lowest in more than four years after the data was published on increased expectations of further central bank action.

Industrial output rose 8.1 percent in the 2007/08 (April-March) fiscal year, compared with 11.6 percent in 2006/07.

Source: Agencies

Thursday, December 11, 2008

PM flags off first 3G service in India

Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL) has announced the launch of India's first 3G services. The formal inauguration has been by the prime minister of India, Manmohan Singh and Communications & IT minister A. Raja, at India Telecom 2008.

With the launch of these 3G services, MTNL's customers in the metros of New Delhi and Mumbai will be the first to experience new services like high speed data transfers, video streaming and conferencing, mobile TV, video mobile surveillance, and mobile internet broadband.

MTNL has selected Motorola's next-generation 3G network infrastructure that includes radio access network, core network elements and various services like project management, networks deployments, and system integration.

"We are working closely with technology partners like Motorola to provide a suite of advanced mobile applications that are not being offered by any other existing carriers. We believe these services will create a paradigm shift in the mobile experience of the Indian consumer" said, RSP Sinha, chairman and managing director of MTNL.

Source: Agencies

PM flags off first 3G service in India

Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL) has announced the launch of India's first 3G services. The formal inauguration has been by the prime minister of India, Manmohan Singh and Communications & IT minister A. Raja, at India Telecom 2008.

With the launch of these 3G services, MTNL's customers in the metros of New Delhi and Mumbai will be the first to experience new services like high speed data transfers, video streaming and conferencing, mobile TV, video mobile surveillance, and mobile internet broadband.

MTNL has selected Motorola's next-generation 3G network infrastructure that includes radio access network, core network elements and various services like project management, networks deployments, and system integration.

"We are working closely with technology partners like Motorola to provide a suite of advanced mobile applications that are not being offered by any other existing carriers. We believe these services will create a paradigm shift in the mobile experience of the Indian consumer" said, RSP Sinha, chairman and managing director of MTNL.

Source: Agencies

US teens high on online sex

One in five US teens has sent nude or partially clothed images of themselves to someone by e-mail or mobile phone and twice as many have sent sexually suggestive electronic messages, a poll has showed.

And American youngsters aged 13-19 are having tech-sex despite a majority of them saying it could have "serious negative consequences" on them, the survey commissioned by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy (NCTUP) showed.

More than half of the 1,280 teens and young adults up to age 26 who took part in the online poll, conducted in September and October, said they had received a sexually suggestive message from someone else -- and one in five said they had shared the racy message with a third person.

Eight in 10 teens said they would be concerned about sending a sexy image of themselves or racy message because they "might regret it later," while nearly 70 per cent said they were worried it could "disappoint family."

Where teen tech-sex gives real rise to concern among adults, said NCTUP, is that more than one-third of teens (38 per cent) say exchanging sexy content makes dating or physical sex with others more likely, and three in 10 say those who exchange sexually suggestive content are "expected to hook up."

"That so many young people say technology is encouraging an even more casual, hook-up culture is reason for concern, given the high rates of teen and unplanned pregnancy in the United States," said Marisa Nightingale, senior advisor to NCTUP.

Although teen pregnancy and birth rates in the United States have dropped by one-third since the 1990s, they remain high compared to other developed countries and carry high costs to the teens involved, their children and society, NCPTUP said in a report published last year.

Source: Agencies

Barclays to offshore 66 jobs to India

Banking major Barclays has announced plans to offshore 66 jobs from its site in Poole, Dorset, to India, sparking protests by bank employees and worker unions.

The bank said the redundancies were part of 1,100 job losses at Poole announced last year, alongside a decision to farm out some work overseas.

Finance union Unite, however, said that the scope of the job cuts was changing and that the 66 job losses were new.

Unite official Steve Pantak said, "The latest job cuts by Barclays in Poole are very alarming for us. The 66 roles are to be offshored to India. Unite believes that there is now real doubt about the future of Barclays in the Poole area.

"The decision earlier in the year to cancel the new building, coupled with the accelerated winding down of jobs in Barclays House, leads Unite to believe that there is a real threat to the future of all staff in Poole."

Pantak called on the bank to give solid assurances on its "commitment to Poole and the remaining jobs in Barclays House."

Earlier this week, Barclays said that it was cutting more than 100 jobs in Cardiff under plans to outsource work in a department that deals with accounts when a customer dies.

Source: Agencies

IT spending to be on a slowdown across Asia

IT spending in Asia Pacific (excluding Japan) will drop to a growth rate of 7.1% in 2009, a decrease from 10.2% in 2008, said Singapore-based research group Springboard Research.

According to Springboard's executive brief Asia Pacific IT Market Predictions 2009 released today, all countries in the region will be affected, but the degree of fallout from the economic crisis will differ by country.

Countries at highest risk of a slowdown include the most developed economies of the region, such as Australia, New Zealand, Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Thailand. Less developed, emerging and boom Asian economies, such as Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia, and Vietnam run a lower risk of a spending slowdown.

Like other regions of the world, Asia will experience an IT spending slowdown during 2009 as all organizations re-look at spending in the wake of the global economic crisis, said Dane Anderson, CEO and EVP of Research at Springboard Research.

However, even with slower growth Asia will continue to emerge as a critical region for IT vendors and we will continue to see a substantial shift in investment moving to Asia and other global emerging markets. While the crisis will affect Asia in 2009, it will also further cement the region as crucial to any global company s growth strategy moving forward, Anderson added.

According to the study, countries in the High Risk Index are Australia, Hong Kong, Korea, New Zealand, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand. However there is some good news for India as it has been placed in the 'lower risk' segment.

"As illustrated in our predictions, we expect that most organizations in the region will be modifying their IT strategy from a focus on supporting revenue generation to an approach aimed at improving efficiencies," said Ravi Shekhar Pandey, manager - Syndicated Research at Springboard Research. There will be a continued focus on reducing operational expenditure, both from business and IT perspectives. On the positive side, while technology spending will definitely be affected by this crisis, it will be more resilient than other areas that are often easier and quicker to cut.

Technology will be more resilient than other areas of spending among enterprises and will be difficult to cut, according to Springboard.

Uncertainty will remain in Indian economy, says RBI chief

The outlook for the Indian economy in the coming months remains uncertain but the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) will take appropriate Subbarao action when needed, its chief said on Thursday.

"The situation way forward is quite uncertain. The RBI will take appropriate action as and when required," Subbarao told reporters after a meeting of the bank's governing board.

"The RBI will continue to closely monitor the developments in the global and domestic financial markets and will take swift and effective action as appropriate."

He also said the central bank would endeavour to minimise the stress on various sectors of the economy which have been hurt by the global economic crisis.

On Saturday, the bank aggressively cut its main rates to support slowing.

Uncertainty will remain in Indian economy, says RBI chief

The outlook for the Indian economy in the coming months remains uncertain but the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) will take appropriate Subbarao action when needed, its chief said on Thursday.

"The situation way forward is quite uncertain. The RBI will take appropriate action as and when required," Subbarao told reporters after a meeting of the bank's governing board.

"The RBI will continue to closely monitor the developments in the global and domestic financial markets and will take swift and effective action as appropriate."

He also said the central bank would endeavour to minimise the stress on various sectors of the economy which have been hurt by the global economic crisis.

On Saturday, the bank aggressively cut its main rates to support slowing.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Yahoo to sack 1,500 workforce in high-cost markets; while hire in India

Yahoo Inc will tell 1,500 employees on Wednesday they are losing their jobs, after announcing in October that layoffs would occur by year's end, a person familiar with the situation said on Tuesday.

The expected date of the announcement and some details were reported this week by All Things Digital, a blog covering Silicon Valley. The layoffs will hit hardest in the labor-intensive areas of human resources and finance.

The blog had speculated the layoffs would affect more than 1,500 people, or about 10 percent of Yahoo's workforce, and the source said the number has not changed.

Chief Financial Officer Blake Jorgensen said in October Yahoo would be prepared to cut jobs and other expenses further in 2009 if the economy continued to deteriorate.

Yahoo will cut its workforce in high-cost markets and hire aggressively in lower-cost locales such as Eastern Europe, India and Southeast Asia, the company has said.

The highest-profile personnel change has not yet occurred. Chief Executive Jerry Yang said in November he would leave the company, after facing strong criticism for his leadership. That change will take effect when a replacement is named.

Source; Agencies

Sony to slash 16,000 jobs globally

Sony Corp plans to eliminate 16,000 jobs in the largest reduction announced by a Japanese company since the credit crunch drove the world into a recession.

Sony will curb investments, outsource production and move away from unprofitable businesses by March 2010, as part of plans to save more than 100 billion yen ($1.1 billion) a year, the Tokyo-based company said. The job eliminations will take place in the electronics division and include 8,000 contract workers, it said.

The reductions highlight the severity of the slump in consumer spending at a time when companies typically focus on the peak Christmas shopping season.

Sony, the world’s second largest maker of consumer electronics, said a much larger than anticipated deterioration in the economy spurred the cuts and the company may revise its midterm targets.

“I can’t see how the company will regain its charm with consumers,” said Hiroshi Sato, chief investment officer of Tokyo-based GCSAM Co, who sold his Sony Holdings. The company might suffer from a bigger earnings decline in the second half, or even losses, if it doesnt take any measures. The company said it will announce the financial impact
of the measures in January, when reporting fiscal thirdquarter results.

The reason for this move is the deterioration of the economy, which was much larger than we expected, senior vice president Naofumi Hara said.

Sony on Oct 23 said net income will probably drop 59% in the year ending March 31, reducing the outlook by 38% as the stronger yen and slumping demand undermine sales of its electronics including Bravia televisions.

The electronics maker will review the impact of the reorganization steps and revise its current-year and mid-term profit targets if needed, Hara said, without elaborating. The company faces no problem with cash flow, he said.

Source: Agencies

Has recession hits jobs in Silicon Valley?

Young professionals and recent graduates have struggled to find work in a sliding economy, but one area — Silicon Valley — has been relatively immune. Until now. Silicon Valley companies that initially resisted the swooning of the economy are looking to cut costs and shed entry-level positions, and people in their 20’s are finding a college degree is no longer their golden ticket to a dream job in high tech.

“I feel like I put in all the work (in school) to not have a job,’’ said Jillian Crawford, 25, who’s been looking for a marketing job with a tech company since she graduated with honors from San Jose State University in June. Crawford has applied to about 25 marketing jobs without receiving much of a response from employers. She remains committed to finding a job in Silicon Valley and would be dismayed if she had to look elsewhere.

That may not be easy

Silicon Valley has been hit hard by the global economic crisis as tech companies, including Hewlett Packard, Yahoo, Sun Microsystems and Applied Materials have shed 140,000 jobs in the last few months, according to Challenger, Gray and Christmas, a consulting group.

Instead, employers are putting an increased value on experience and tenure, something recent graduates lack. And many companies are moving seasoned employees around to fill open positions rather than add another person to the payroll, according to Kerry Kiley, Bay Area regional manager for employment firm Adecco.

“Things out there are very, very tough right now and seem to be getting tougher before they’re getting better — even for the educated,’’ she said. Only engineers buck the trend. It has been tough for Crawford. She moved back home with her parents a little over a month ago to save money while searching for a job.“I was thinking (it would take) maybe a couple weeks, maybe three weeks, before finding a job I was really interested in,’’ said Crawford. “I am completely still shocked at how long it’s taken.’’

Source; Agencies

No job losses in BPO sector, says Nasscom

Software and BPO industry body Nasscom on Wednesday said the business process outsourcing sector is not in the danger of losing jobs due to the ongoing economic downturn rather a net hirer in the current fiscal.

In a statement here Nasscom said, "Media reports suggest that the Indian BPO industry will see 2.5 lakh job losses by the first quarter of 2009, in the wake of downturn in the US and other developed economies. NASSCOM's research
and interaction with its member companies is not in support of this statement.

Our detailed industry performance and forecast for FY09 will be released in the next fortnight. However, on employment the industry will continue to be a net hirer in FY09 as a direct corollary of industry growth and fears of large scale job losses at an industry level are unfounded."

The industry body's comment comes in the wake BPO Industry Association President Samir Chopra stating that "severe job loss is expected because of recession.

We are going to request for a fiscal package from the Government but if that doesn't happen, then there be huge amount of losses in terms of manpower. I think a quarter of a million jobs will go."

The $11-billion BPO sector employs about seven lakh people.

Source: Agencies

Were Jet officially responsible for sacking 1000 workers in September?

Much before its sack order to 1,900 employees turned into a publicity nightmare, Jet Airways had handed marching orders to 1,000 workers and even managed to keep it under wraps.

According to informed sources, Jet Airways CEO Wolfgang Prock-Schauer had told investors that the company was able to synergise better between full service Jet Airways and budget airlines JetLite after trimming its staff.

"On the staff numbers, we have reduced the headcount in September by further 1,000 entries and now able to synergise the operations between Jet and JetLite," the sources said quoting Prock-Schauer.

Despite repeated attemps to elicit comments, Jet Airways spokesperson did not respond.

During September, Jet Airways had anounced that JetLite offered voluntary separation scheme to 687 employees.

In the same month, Jet and JetLite executed a codeshare agreement aimed at offering better connections and wider connectivity, besides having a common reservation system.

The carrier, which has a total of 13,000 employees, played out the sacking-and-reinstatement drama of 1,900 employees in October, with Chairman Naresh Goyal 'overruling' its Board decision to fire the employees.

"I apologise for all the agony you had to go through for two days. You can all come back to work from tomorrow. We have decided to take back all the employees," Goyal had said in a midnight press conference.

Jet came under attack from various ministers and agitating employees for the sudden decision to sack so many people immediately, especially ahead of Diwali. It, however, defended itself stating that the decision was taken to save the jobs of the other 11,100 employees and would result in savings of $1million a month.

Source: Agencies

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

World Bank warns of a very deep global recession

Economic growth prospects for both high income and developing countries have deteriorated substantially and the deep global recession cannot be ruled out, the World Bank said on Tuesday.

The international banking crisis that erupted in September 2008 after more than a year of less acute financial turmoil has substantially reinforced the cylical downturn that was already under way, the bank said a report devoted to assessing economic prospects for 2009.

``Following the insolvency of a large number of banks and financial institutions in the United States, Europe and the developing world, financial conditions have become much tighter , capital flows to developing countries have dried up and huge amounts of market capitalization have evaporated,'' the bank said.

The bank predicted world economic growth will be 2.5 per cent in 2008 and 0.9 percent in 2009. It said developing countries will likely grow 4.5 percent next year, down from 7.9 per cent in 2007, while growth in high income countries will turn negative.

Even if the strong measures governments took to restore confidence in the international banking system work and credit begins to thaw, a number of developing countries are likely to be subjected to substantial strains, possibly including bank failures and currency crises, the bank said.

``In these very uncertain circumstances,” the bank said, ``policy makers must place a premium on reducing the likelihood of domestic turmoil by reacting swiftly and forcefully to emerging difficulties, including, if necessary, seeking assistance from the International Monetary Fund.'''

The IMF provides rescue packages to countries experiencing financial crises while the bank, its sister institution, lends money or makes grants for development projects.

``People in the developing world have had to deal with two major external shocks, the upward spiral in food and fuel prices followed by the financial crisis, which has eased tensions in commodity markets but is testing banking systems and threatening job losses around the world,'' said Justin Lin, the bank's chief economist ``Urgent steps are needed to help reduce fallout from the crisis on the real economy and on the poorest.''

In response to the crisis the bank said it was increasing its support for developing countries, through new spending commitments of up to $100 million over the next three years. The bank said its private sector arm, the International Finance Corp, would help by providing trade financing, helping banks recapitalize or aiding infrastructure projects facing financial distress.

Source: Agencies

General Motors India to hire 500 people

Even as companies are giving pink slips to employees as a result of the global meltdown, GM India is increasing its employee strength from the present 4,000 to 4,500 by 2009, a top official of the company said.

"We will be increasing the number of our employees from 4,000 to 4,500 by 2009," GM India Vice-President P Balendran told mediapersons here.

"The 500 include 300 for the car plant in Talegaon, 200 for the powertrain facility, also in Talegaon, and the engineering centre in Bangalore", he said.

On slashing prices, Balendran said the firm, which had been offering discounts ranging from Rs 2,000 to Rs 50,000, besides a discount of Rs 3,000 to Rs 5,000 to government and PSU employees during the festival season, would continue them (discounts) till the end of this month.

However, the firm is planning a price hike of 2-3 per cent in January 2009, he said. The market, Balendran said, was sluggish and the usual sales growth during the festive season, which used to be in the range of 25-30 per cent, had come down to 5-7 per cent this season.

"The main reason for the sluggishness is there is no liquidity in the market. Eighty-five per cent of GM's vehicles are financed, of which 70 per cent are by private banks," he said.

On the Talegaon plant, Balendran said, "The capacity of the plant, which commenced operations in September 2008, can go up from 1.40 lakh units now to 3 lakh units."

Source: Agencies

Is the slowdown, an opportunity in itself?

The current slowdown will also give an impetus to many technologies, some of which include Green IT, cloud computing, graphics and Web, writes Anil Chopra, editor at Cybermedia.

Media the world over is predicting this to be the worst economic slowdown ever. But then, people who have lived through various economic cycles would easily be able to split the hype from reality, and tell that while the causes of a slowdown vary, their impact is usually similar in nature. We can easily apply this formula to the current slowdown and predict that this one is no different from the previous one or the one before that.

Let's look at the slowdown of 2001, which happened due to the great dot com bust and compare it with the current one. Much before it actually happened, people predicted that there was a dot com bubble just waiting to burst, and bring with it a recession. But nobody of course could in their wildest of dreams predict the disaster that followed and brought down with it the US and world economy-the Sep 11 attack on WTC. Markets crashed, demands dipped, giving rise to higher unemployment, pink slips, and company closures.

Now let's come to the current slowdown. Much before it started, people knew that it would be caused by the US sub-prime crisis. Nobody however, had predicted that it would be so bad that many leading multi-national banks and financial institutes would go bankrupt. But the results of the current slowdown remain similar to the previous one-job cuts, stock market crash, dip in market demands, and the like.

So the key learning from slowdowns is that they're a way for markets to correct themselves and provide everyone an opportunity to think about the next big thing. After the dot com bust, the web emerged stronger than ever. Today everyone's going gaga over Web 2.0, social networking, and the benefits it provides. The humble server room transformed itself into a powerful data center to host business critical applications, and e-Commerce became a standard practice amongst most enterprises. The WTC attack reduced air travel, giving a boost to video conferencing, and also made DR and BCP common practice amongst enterprises.

Likewise, the current slowdown will also give an impetus to many technologies, some of which include Green IT, cloud computing, graphics, web, etc. We've talked about ten of them along with their likely future impact in this month's cover story.

It's also forcing CIOs to reduce their IT purchase and focus more on improving efficiencies within their existing IT infrastructures. We've talked about the impact of the slowdown on enterprises at length in our IT strategy guide for CIOs along with tips on how to survive the slowdown.

Lastly, the good thing about a slowdown is that it reduces complacency and forces people to think differently and identify new opportunities. So why should it be different during the current slowdown? Our IT careers story this time explains just how bad is the job market and areas that are growing.

So treat the slowdown as an opportunity and take yourself to the next level. All the best and wish you a fulfilling new year ahead!

Source: Cybermedia

Obama urged to appoint a cyber security czar

Report indicates that cyber security a major threat to US and has urged president-elect Barack Obama to appoint a cyber security czar.

Cyber security will pose a major threat to the US during the next administration, a new report has said, urging.

The report, Securing Cyberspace for the 44th Presidency, issued by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, also urged president-elect Barack Obama to appoint a cyber security czar.

"Cyber security is now a major security problem for the US. Only a comprehensive national security strategy that embraces both the domestic and international aspects of cyber security will make us more secure," said the report.

Criticizing President George W. Bush for relying on the free market to secure the nation's networks, the report accused the Department of Homeland Security of being unable to protect the government from cyber attacks.

"In no other area of national security do we depend on private, voluntary efforts. We believe that cyberspace cannot be secured without regulation," it said.

The report recommended the creation of a White House office - Assistant to the President for Cyberspace - to coordinate responses to cyber threats across domestic, intelligence, military and economic elements of the government. It called for increased funding for research into cyber security.

Is Arun Sarin being considered for Yahoo CEO post?

The former chief executive of Vodafone Group Plc, Arun Sarin, is among those being considered by board members at Yahoo Inc to take Arun Sarin Tycoons with a golden heart
Modern Moguls the top job at the internet firm, the Wall Street Journal said, citing people familiar with the matter.

Yahoo's directors are moving closer to a recommendation and have authorized checking references on a few key candidates, the paper said.

Yahoo could not be immediately reached for comment.

The names of several executives of leading technology and media companies have been floating around as possible replacements to Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang.

Yang agreed to resign as CEO last month after investors criticized him for management missteps. The company said at the time that it was hiring executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles.

Source: Agencies

Have 30,000 lost jobs over the past one week?

News of the US officially slipping into recession seems to have spurred another round of massive retrenchment, as the first week of December alone saw a stunning 30,000 layoffs, with more than half happening in the world’s largest economy.

The whopping numbers are just a continuation of a strained labour market as employers in America slashed 5,33,000 jobs in the month of November, the maximum downsizing in 34 years. Right from telecom giant AT&T to battered banking major Credit Suisse to steel maker ArcelorMittal, the layoffs are spread across the sectors, amid the worst financial turmoil since the great depression of 1930s.

Moreover, since the start of recession in December last year, as concluded by the National Bureau of Economic Research, 1.9 million people lost their jobs and two-thirds of the losses happened in the last three months. Leaving a gloomy November, this month’s layoffs are led by AT&T which would slash 12,000 jobs or about four per cent of its total workforce.

JP Morgan is reportedly planning to reduce its workforce by 21%. The move is expected to result in 4,000 employees being given the pink slip by January at Washington Mutual.

Source: Agencies

Monday, December 8, 2008

Booster shots for global meltdown victims!

As the global economic slowdown spreads, countries after countries have announced rescue packages. The United States has so far committed $8.317 trillion to tackle the crisis. The United Kingdom, France, Russia, China and the European Union also have announced various stimulus packages.

Here’s a look at the specific fire-fighting measures announced by various countries.

United States
President-elect Barack Obama crafting $175 bn package to create 2.5 million jobs
President George Bush signed a $168 bn, 2-yr stimulus into law in early 2008
Package includes tax rebates of up to $600 per individual earning $75,000 gross income
Declared two stimulus packages worth $ 1.5 billion

Financial Package One
Bill to disburse $700 bn in stages
After the first $250 bn is authorised, President could request another $100 bn
Final $350 bn could be cleared by a further act of Congress

Financial Package Two
Fed will purchase up to $600 billion more in mortgage-related assets
Fed will lend up to $200 billion to the holders of securities backed by various types of consumer loans
Fed will buy up to $100 billion in direct obligations from mortgage giants

US Govt Measures
Up to about $1.8 trillion in Fed purchases of top-rated US dollar commercial paper under a facility launched in October
Up to about $1.9 trillion in new Federal Deposit Insurance Corp (FDIC) guarantees for banks
Up to $800 billion in Fed support for mortgage and consumer credit markets
Up to $600 billion in Fed purchases of US dollar commercial paper and certificates of deposit under a Money Market Investor Funding
Up to $900 billion in Fed Term Auction Facility loans was offered to meet financial institutions' cash needs
Unlimited commitments to lend through discount window to banks and broker dealers(totaled $296.82 billion as of Nov. 19)
$700 billion for the Treasury to buy equity stakes in financial institutions
Treasury, the FDIC and the Fed have agreed to shoulder up to $249.3 billion in losses from a Citigroup portfolio
Unlimited temporary Fed currency swap lines with the Central banks, Fed maintains $165 billion in swap lines with other banks
Up to $50 billion from the Great Depression-era Exchange Stabilisation Fund
At least $26.57 billion in Treasury direct purchases of mortgage-backed securities since September
$200 billion to backstop Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac
Up to $144 billion in additional MBS purchases by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac
AIG will get up to $152.5 billion in support from Treasury equity purchases
$300 billion for the Federal Housing Administration to refinance failing mortgages
$4 billion in grants to local communities to help them buy and repair homes
$29 billion in financing for JPMorgan Chase's government-brokered buyout of Bear Stearns & Co in March.

President Sarkozy unveiled a $32.9 billion stimulus plan
Targeting investment projects rather than directly aiding consumer
Measure to boost GDP by 0.6% by 2009
French package will cost 1.3% of GDP, will push budget deficit to 3.9%
Budget deficit will be above the European Union’s 3% limit
EU allowed the exceed budget limits in 2009

United Kingdom
Prepared a $29.06 bn package centering around consumer tax cut
Announced a range of tax cuts and govt spending over 18 months
Package includes 2.5% cut in VAT to 15%, postponement of corporate increase
Package will increase public borrowing to $178.6 bn next year, nearly 8% of Britain’s GDP

Unveiled plans worth 31 billion euros or 1.25% of GDP
Govt refusing to deliver tax cuts to help stimulate economic growth
Package will generate investments and new contracts worth over 50 billion euros over 2 years
New lending of up to 15 billion euros will be introduced, strengthen its lending activities

Unveiled $20 billion economic stimulus package
Package includes cut in profit tax to 24% from 20%
Govt sanctioned state-run banks to support industry with billions of dollars of soft lending

European Union
Fiscal boost amounting to 200 billion euros($260 bn), nearly 1.5% of EU’s GDP
EU commission urges member-states to commit 170 billion euros to their own rescue package
Considering system of guarantees and loan subsidies where credit is tight
Aid to SMEs increased to 30 billion euros from 10 billion Euros

Introduced stimulus package worth 4 trillion yuan ($586 bn)
Package mainly for govt spending on infra projects and earthquake-related relief work
Stimulus package to boost domestic demand through 2010
VAT rule changes allows companies to deduct the cost of core investment expenses
Govt increased export tax rebates for wide range of products

More than $ 12 bn for auto industry, family benefit and domestic residential backed mortgage market

$51 billion package for new govt spending
Package includes payout to families, tax break on mortgages

South Korea
$25 billion announced till date to ease financial crisis

$30 billion for domestic investment and consumption
Shopping voucher handout about Taiwan dollar 3,600 per citizen

President announced $3.7 billion plan to deal with spreading financial crisis.

Source: Agencies

Legal firms to make hay in slowdown

Fortunes of domestic law firms will continue to rise on account of spurt in layoffs and commercial disputes, even though the government injected a booster dose of over Rs 30,000 crore to propel growth.

"Workload on disputes pertaining to joint venture terminations, franchising problems and layoffs have increased as companies have started taking pre-emptive actions," said senior partner of the law firm Titus and Co, Diljeet Titus.

Although the government has come out with a fiscal stimulus package to boost industrial growth and economy, it is unlikely to have perceptible impact in the short run and raise business confidence, which has led to layoffs, partial and complete closure of plants and termination of joint ventures, especially those involving foreign partners.

According to Titus, who deals mostly with foreign clients, "Recently, we have received more than two dozen references on joint venture terminations, closure of wholly owned subsidiaries, branch offices and liaison offices."

Company law expert U K Chaudhary said, "We have been approached by some big companies for consultation work on compensation package for the employees to be retrenched."

Several big and small companies battling demand slowdown are trying to get rid of surplus employees to save costs.

"It is true that world is suffering from a severe financial crisis, but for many Indian legal firms, it is a boom time and lawyers across the country are getting a lot of works related to litigation and drafting," opined Rabindra Jhunjhunwala, Partner Khaitan and Co.

According to latest IMF estimates, world economic growth rate is expected to slow down to 2.2 % in 2009. Many countries in the world including the US, Eurozone nations and Japan are in recession. Economic growth rate in India too is expected to moderate to 7 % during 2008-09 from 9 % in the previous fiscal.

Source: Agencies

Cost of outsourcing may creep up!

The Mumbai terror attacks couldn’t have come at a worse time for the $50-billion IT BPO industry.

Though many industry honchos feel that the IT BPO sector may now see a further slowdown in new business and client visits, others feel that clients will now look at setting up disaster recovery centres as an integral part of strategy which will lead to an additional cost burden.

Most industry leaders are still unanimous that the perception of India as an outsourcing destination will remain unchanged. There will, however, be a short-term impact. Employee security will also be beefed up further. Experts also add that there will be fewer overseas customer visits, at least in the short term, delaying due diligence process, which will impact new business in the short term.

“Outsourcing as a business strategy is inevitable in the long term. But in the short-to-medium term, we will definitely see the cost of outsourcing go up. This is because vendors will have to provide centres in multiple cities in order to have a strong disaster recovery and business continuity strategy. This will make the cost of outsourcing go up,” says Avinash Vashishtha, CEO of Tholons, an outsourcing advisory firm.

The apex body for IT and BPO industry Nasscom, however, said all its offices will remain open. “We have some global events lined up in Hyderabad which are on track. We will not bow down to terror. The industry has put in business continuity plans to ensure 24/7 operations. We are confident that the government is dealing with this issue very strongly. The city of Mumbai is resilient and will rise from this crisis as have all the other major cities,” said Nasscom President Som Mittal.

Some Mumbai-based BPOs say that they continue to operate though with less staff. Some BPOs like Firstsource diverted its call traffic to its locations in other cities.

“We have our disaster recovery centres in different cities so calls have been diverted there thus having less impact on business. We also have our offices in Malad and Vashi where business is going on. Clients also understand that terrorism is not limited to certain geography and we will not see an impact in the long term,” says Firstsource CEO Ananda Mukherji.

On the other hand, WNS, which is one of the largest international BPO headquartered in Mumbai is monitoring the situation closely. “Our staff members are safe and client operations at our Mumbai units have not been adversely impacted. Our business continuity management team is monitoring the situation. We are taking all precautionary steps to ensure the safety of our staff members in addition to ensuring continuity of business operations,” says group COO Anup Gupta.

Meanwhile, India’s largest BPO, Genpact also discounts claims that client perception will get impacted in the long term. “When unprecedented situations like these come up, the first thing that we try and ensure is that our employees are safe in the affected region and assurance to customers that deals will remain unaffected. Our business continuity plans are well in place,” says Piyush Mehta, senior VP and HR head, Genpact.

But there are some industry honchos who disagree, as well. According to Raman Roy, CEO of Quattro BPO, it would be wrong to say, that the massacre in the commercial capital of the country will not affect business.

Source: Times of India

Is ur battery dead? Fuel cells to chip in

How many times have you come across the dreaded situation where you have to make an all-important call and find yourself in the midst of nowhere with a dead cell phone battery? You do not have a charger and you are miles away from access to a plug point. What could you possibly do in such a scenario?

Well, there are a couple of solutions available. One could carry along a spare charged battery, and voila! you have a fully charged phone as soon as you replace the discharged battery. However, this might not always be possible. Oh, and I know quite a few people (whom I shall call Mobile Killers) who can make the most powerful batteries bite the dust in a matter of a few hours. They are people who use the multimedia capabilities of the cellphones of today and remain connected to the Internet via 3G, WiFi or GPRS simultaneously -- insatiable battery resource hogging features.

Other options include devices like these, which certainly do the job, but are not reliable, and guess what? I feel these are "stop gap" arrangements. What we need is a permanent solution to this issue. So, here's something that's futuristic enough to feature on Future Watch!

Enter fuel cells. Now, automobile buffs might be aware that fuel cell powered cars and buses are being used in many countries; as far as I know, this is the most popular application for fuel cells. However, there have been continuous advancements in this field over the past few years, and we have seen instances of fuel cell usage migrating to other applications, ranging from fuel cell powered submarines to concepts of portable "on the fly" chargers for your gadgets.

To date, fuel cell powered chargers were restricted by legislation - being banned on flights because of the presence of methanol, butane, and formic acid in the fuel cell apparatus. This legislation has stunted the growth of the "compact" fuel cell industry all these years; it was recently scrapped by the US Department of Transportation. This has, as expected, lead to a heightened interest in this field due to the financial rewards that can be reaped by targeting this untapped market. So, what is in store now?

Companies like Lilliputian Systems and Medis Technologies are already working on little fuel cell based "generators" that will keep your gadgets powered for a long time with its cigarette lighter sized fuel cell based charging devices. These devices are expected to see the light of day sometime in the last quarter of 2009. Some others, on the other hand, have already introduced products that might be a bit ungainly to look at now. Hey, that's OK. They are new devices. Remember the first cellphone? You might not want to be seen dead with it now. These products, according to Lilliputian Systems, will be sold for $100 and $150 with recharge cartridge prices ranging from $1 to $3.

Expect a slew of devices by the end of next year, and you could finally have a futuristic 'charging point on the go' at your disposal!


IBM, Harvard want your PC for solar power study

Scientists at Harvard University and IBM are hoping to harness the power of a million idle computers to develop a new, cheaper form of solar power that could revolutionize the green energy world.

Researchers have launched the project using IBM's World Community Grid, which taps into volunteers' computers across the globe to run calculations on a myriad of compounds - potentially shortening a project that could take 22 years to just two years.

Harvard scientists are hoping the project will allow it to discover a combination of organic materials that can be used to manufacture plastic solar cells that are cheaper and more flexible than the silicon-based ones typically used to turn sunlight into electricity.

The technology could be used to coat windows, make backpacks or line blankets to produce electricity from the sun's rays. Technology to make the plastic cells already exists, but they are not yet efficient enough to be rolled out in commercial products.

"It is not now cost efficient, although the materials are cheap because it's plastic," said Alan Aspuru-Guzik, a chemistry researcher at Harvard University. The most efficient silicon-based photovoltaic solar cells convert about 20 percent of the sunlight that strikes them into electricity.

For now, the organic cells can turn only about 5 percent of the sunlight into power - half the level needed to make the low-cost cells a viable energy source. The researchers plan to publish results of the work once they have discovered a possible combination of compounds.

IBM developed its World Community Grid to advance research of humanitarian projects, such as fighting cancer, dengue fever and AIDS. The grid connects computers in homes or offices via the Internet with program on each machine to run calculations that feed back to the database.

"It's a way for people that have computers to do some good for the world," said IBM engineer Joe Jasinski. With more than a million volunteers currently linked to the World Community Grid, IBM said it had created a network with a massive calculating capability that would rank it among the top 10 most powerful supercomputers in the world.

Members of the grid download software to their personal computers that run the calculations as a screensaver program on the machine when it is turned on but not in use. IBM includes security software to protect the participants' computers. Such virtual networks are also in place to crunch data for other projects, such as SETI's effort to sift through radio telescope signals for signs of extraterrestrial life in the universe.

Source: Reuters

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Who will be the new Indian finance minister?

Hunt is on for a new finance minister with the names of SM Krishna, C Rangarajan and Kapil Sibal under consideration in the wake of Chidambaram's shift to the home ministry.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, more comfortable with bureaucrats and technocrats, would ideally like Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia to take over finance. But this is something not acceptable to the Congress party, say well placed sources.

For the same reason, the Congress would have reservations about C. Rangarajan, former governor of the Reserve Bank of India, who has headed the prime minister's Economic Advisory Council.

The Congress would like to elevate a politician to the position.

Though Manmohan Singh took over the finance portfolio in the wake of Shivraj Patil's resignation as home minister and Chidambaram's move to home following the terror strike in Mumbai, he would like a full time finance minister, party sources say.

The prime minister already has charge of three weighty ministries - coal, after the exit of Shibu Soren who has taken over as chief minister of Jharkhand, information and broadcasting after the illness of Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi, and environment and forests.

As things stand, the government may go in for vote on account in February, rather than a full budget, on the eve of general elections. But finance entails a very heavy load, the sources say. This is even more urgent now with a full-blown economic crisis the world over with India not being spared either from its fallout.

The name of S.M. Krishna, former chief minister of Karnataka, is doing the rounds for finance. His name was also under consideration for home minister after Shivraj Patil's resignation, but the party decided to plump for Chidambaram instead.

Then there is Kapil Sibal - the prime minister enjoys a sense of comfort with him - but he is being considered too junior by the party.

It is said that 10, Janpath (residence of Congress president Sonia Gandhi) was wary of both External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh - both names were under consideration - for home minister because they are considered politically astute and "may do a Narasimha Rao on Sonia Gandhi" and outsmart her.

The prime minister has not been enthusiastic about giving finance to Pranab Mukherjee, even though Manmohan Singh has relied heavily on Mukherjee in the last four years to run his government, and made him head of the 50 plus Group of Ministers (GOMs). It has been a government that has ruled through GOMs.

Whenever the question of a cabinet reshuffle has come up for discussion during the last three years, the idea of Mukherjee as either home minister or as finance minister has not found favour.

Mukherje is identified with a left-of-centre image. He was not given finance even in 1991 when P.V. Narasimha Rao became prime minister and opened up the economy, choosing Manmohan Singh as his finance minister to lead the process of reforms.

Left to himself, the "non-political" prime minister is happier working with bureaucrats than with politicians. He has given cabinet and minister of state status to almost as many bureaucrats and technocrats as to the politicians in his government.

These include those heading the Economic Advisory Council, National Knowledge Commission, National Disaster Management Authority, Inter State Council, National Manufacturing Competitiveness Council, to name a few. And of course, the powerful National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan.

Source: Agencies

Is the worldwide bailouts 10 times bigger than Indian economy?

In their efforts to tackle the global economic crisis, the rescue packages announced by the governments across the world has crossed 10 trillion-dollar mark (about Rs 50,00,000 crore) -- an amount equivalent to nearly 10 times the total size of Indian economy.

The amount is believed to grow even bigger with the turmoil still being in expansion mode.

A lion's share of about three-fourth of the worldwide bailout package of about 10.1 trillion dollar has come from the world's biggest economy, the US, whose total national debt has also incidentally crossed the 10 trillion-dollar mark.

The size of the entire Indian economy, where the impact of global crisis has been relatively less disastrous, pales at about one trillion dollar.

These bailouts, which have been prevalent in both developed and developing worlds due to the financial turmoil that turned severe after the fall of Lehman Brothers, have come in various forms of financial stimulus by the governments across the world -- be it putting in fresh money into a crisis-ridden institution, bringing them under the government's fold or other fiscal measures.

America set the ball rolling for such packages, with the world's largest economy announcing 700 billion-dollar plan primarily to shore up the fortunes of the country's battered financial institutions. Taking into account other rescue acts by the US, its total bailout plan runs into more than seven trillion dollars.

Various European nations together have come up with about 1.3 trillion dollar in financial assistance apart from the European Commission urging the constituent countries to pledge nearly 254 billion dollar.

Further, Germany has thrown lifelines to the tune of 60 billion dollar to save the country's leading financial firms -- Dexia Bank and Hypo Real Estate -- both of which were battered by the worsening economic turmoil.

While Hypo Real Estate received 50 billion dollar, Dexia Bank got a lifeline worth about 10 billion dollar.

Among the developing nations, China has announced a massive 586 billion-dollar plan to boost its economy and the funds would be mainly utilised for infrastructure projects.

Other major bailouts in recent times include 572 billion dollar pumped by Ireland administration to strengthen the country's banks, 150 billion dollar pledged by Russia and 30 billion dollar put in by the Poland government.

Meanwhile, the whopping seven trillion-dollar injected into the economy by the US, includes billions of dollars of term funding facilities, currency swap arrangement with various foreign governments and rescue of Wall Street giants.

With the economic turmoil continuing unabated, the Bush administration recently came up with another mega 800 billion- dollar plan, which would help in buying toxic mortgage assets, among others.

Further, the Federal government threw a lifeline of more than 300 billion dollar to banking behemoth Citigroup. The rescue includes fresh capital injection to the tune of 40 billion dollar and guaranteeing assets worth 306 billion dollar.

In the United Kingdom, the administration has announced injection of more than 100 billion dollar, with funds primarily utilised to rescue its banks.

Bradford & Bingley, which was on the verge of collapse received nearly 33 billion dollar from the administration.

Source: Agencies

Rs 300,000cr package to boost Indian economy

The government on Sunday announced major tax cuts across the board to boost demand and allocated additional funds and incentives for exports, housing, textile and infrastructure to stimulate the economy, hit by the global financial crisis.

"The government has been concerned about the impact of global financial crisis on the Indian economy
and a number of steps have been taken to deal with this problem," an official statement said.

The package, coming on the back of fresh monetary measures announced by the RBI on Saturday, includes a four per cent cut in ad-valoram duty across the board, to boost additional spending, besides enhanced credit for exporters, along with a Rs 10,000 crore mop up for India Infrastructure Finance Company.

The measures include additional plan expenditure up to Rs 20,000 crore in current year; total spending in four months till March expected at Rs 300,000 crore. A series of steps to boost exports; Rs 350 crore additional funds for export incentives; back-up guarantee to ECGC for up to Rs 350 crore; to be allowed refund of services in some areas.

The package also includes import duty on Naptha for use in power sector as well as export duty on iron ore to be eliminated. India Infrastructure Finance Company to raise Rs 10,000 crore through tax-free bonds by March 2009. PSU banks to soon announce package for borrowers of home loans upto Rs 20 lakh. An across-the-board cut on ad valorem rate to encourage additional spending; additional Rs 1,400 crore for textile sector.

Source: Agencies

Web 2.0 a hit with handset makers

Cell phone makers are increasingly pre-loading their handsets with social networking applications to woo Internet-savvy consumers.

LG Mobile has tied up with Mobile 2.0 service provider RockeTalk which will upload a social networking application on its phones. Similarly, Samsung Mobile has a tie-up with ShoZu, provider of mobile social media services, which has pre-loaded social networking software on select Samsung phones.

Says Samsung Mobile country head Sanjay Dutt: “Early next year, we plan to launch our own proprietary software for enabling social networking through mobiles. This will be preloaded on most Samsung multimedia phones. The idea is to enable users to stay connected while on the move.”

LG GSM business head Anil Arora: “Social networking is the next thing on mobile phones. In future, we plan to preload more mobile phone models with social networking application without any extra charge.”

The company currently pre-loads the application only on LG KT 610 and KF 750 cell phones.

According to handset marketers, social networking on mobiles is a hightraction feature in the urban market where youths form a big consumer group for handsets. Says Motorola India and South-West Asia senior director (sales) Lloyd Mathias: “Social networking is an important feature, especially in the urban market and can define the purchase decision. Today’s Internet savvy youths seek access to social networking sites on mobile phones.”

Motorola has social networking application pre-loaded on seven of its handset models, including all phones in the Moto Rokr and Moto Ming series.

Some handset makers are eagerly seeking a tie-up in the space. Says Meridian Mobile CEO Rajiv Khanna: “We see potential in this feature and are planning to make even our low-end phones internet-ready. Early next year, we will tie up with a local web 2.0 service provider and upload this feature in our phones at the shop-floor level.”

Service providers are spoilt for choice as manufacturers queue up seeking collaborations for pre-loading phones with social networking applications.

Says RockeTalk marketing director Sameer Agarwal: “Our application makes it easier for mobile users to send voice messages, pictures and videos. Social networking on mobiles is set to grow exponentially as mobile internet penetration increases.”

The US-based service provider claims to be in advanced stages of talks with handset makers--Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Samsung and Spice Mobile--for pre-loading web 2.0 applications.

Almost 10 million new handsets are sold in India every month, making it one of the biggest markets globally. No wonder, handset marketers like LG and Samsung are quick to adopt novel features to fuel sales.

Source: Agencies

Air fares in India fall in time for New Year

Air fares have finally begun their descent to more reasonable levels this holiday season. On Saturday, Vijay Mallya-owned Kingfisher and low cost carriers — IndiGo and SpiceJet — decided to follow Jet and Air India in cutting fuel surcharge for domestic flights.

While full service carriers have dropped surcharge by Rs 400, LCCs — that had not raised them in last two rounds of jet fuel price hikes — have also reduced by Rs 200 to Rs 300. Now all Indian carriers, whether full service or low cost, have uniform fuel surcharge: Rs 1,950 for short flights and Rs 2,700 for those over one hour flying time.

LCCs like IndiGo and SpiceJet and AI (domestic) don't charge the congestion fee of Rs 150 that Jet and Kingfisher do. In fact, with the difference in fuel surcharge gone, LCCs would be under pressure to cut basic fares. They are looking at re-introducing attractive advance booking fares to stimulate demand. At present, full service carriers' fares are about 20% higher than LCCs and the latter want this gap to be 25-30% to be significantly cheaper.

The airlines' worst fears are coming true as the combined impact of economic glut and terror alerts has cast its shadow on passenger numbers in the ongoing peak travel season. The number of fliers is going to further drop from January to March (traditionally the leanest travel season). "We have to stimulate demand by attractive fares," said SpiceJet director Ajay Singh.

Sat phones may help India trace jihadi trail

They have for long been a big chink in the Indian security apparatus. Not licensed to be sold here, Thuraiya satellite phones have been a favourite with the anti-India terror groups who use them to go about their deadly agenda without the fear of their calls getting intercepted.

However, as Mumbai cops gather evidence to strengthen their already-formidable case against Pakistan-based jehadi group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, a unique characteristic of Thuraiya satellite phone is proving to be of great help.

All the satellite phones have built-in GPS devices which help the Thuraiya `switch' -- master control facility -- in Sharjah to record the movement of a phone as it makes or receives calls.

Sources indicated that investigators, working together with the FBI, have already procured the details from Thuraiya which will help them plot the journey of the Lashkar gang when they set out from Kazghar Creek in Pakistan on their ghastly mission against India.

The Thuraiya switch at Sharjah will also have records of the co-ordinates of Lashkar leaders who used their satellite phones to communicate with their boys heading for Mumbai.

"The evidence will destroy Pakistan's deniability", asserted top intelligence sources, while indicating that Americans are working hard to get the evidence from Sharjah which will help them plot the movement of the gang as well as key Lashkar operatives -- Zakiurr Rahman and Muzammil.

Mohammad Ajmal, the arrested terrorist, has told interrogators that Zakiurr Rahman and Muzammil had instructed them to throw both the satellite phone and the GPS device into the sea after reaching Mumbai. While the jehadis scrupulously carried out their brief to kill innocents and cause mayhem, they forgot to jettison the two devices -- a lapse which threatens to spoil the celebrations over the Mumbai strikes in the Muridike headquarters of Lashkar and which has created complications for Pakistan.

Source: Agencies

Will the $15b-loan bail out help US auto industry?

Facing massive job losses, the White House and congressional Democrats are working to provide about $15 billion in loans to prevent Detroit’s weakened auto industry from collapsing. After yielding to President George W Bush on a key point, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House would consider legislation next week to provide “short-term and limited assistance” to the US auto industry while it undergoes “major restructuring.”

“Congress will insist that any legislation include rigorous and ongoing oversight to guarantee that taxpayers are protected and that resources are directed to ensure the longterm viability and competitiveness” of the industry, Pelosi said in a statement. The Senate is also scheduled to be in session next week. The legislation, which was being crafted this weekend, would act as a lifeline to General Motors Corporation, Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler LLC while meeting demands from many skeptical lawmakers that Congress refrain from writing a blank check for the beleaguered industry. Officials in both parties said a key breakthrough on the long-stalled bailout came when Pelosi bowed to Bush’s demand that the aid come from a fund set aside for the production of environmentally friendlier cars. The California Democrat spoke to White House chief of staff Josh Bolten during the day to signal her change in position, they added.

Pelosi said the billions of dollars that had been set aside to modernize plants to develop the green cars would be repaid “within a matter of weeks.” Democrats said her hope was to include the funds in an economic recovery bill that lawmakers are expected to prepare for President-elect Barack Obama’s signature shortly after he takes office. Officials in both parties also said the legislation would include creation of a trustee or group of industry overseers to make sure the bailout funds were used by automakers for their intended purpose. The funds are designed to last until March, giving the incoming Obama administration and the new Congress time to consider the issue anew.

A Democratic aide said Pelosi was seeking a provision that would bar the automakers from using any of the funds to pursue a legal challenge to states seeking to implement tougher auto emission standards. The aide spoke on condition of anonymity because the legislation was not yet drafted.

Source: Agencies

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